This traditional sauce appears on the table at most Vietnamese meals. Add a small handful of shredded carrots and you have a vegetable relish. For the ultimate nuoc cham, grind the garlic, chili, and sugar with a mortar and pestle. Or smash the garlic through a garlic press, or mince it finely, and mash it with the sugar and chilies on the side of the bowl with the back of your spoon. Or simply stir it all together. As long as you dissovle the sugar, you will have a delicious sauce.
Yield: Makes about ½ cup
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon chili garlic sauce or finely chopped fresh hot red chilies, or 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Combine the garlic, sugar, and chili-garlic sauce in the bowl of a mortar and mash to a paste. (Or combine them on your cutting board and mash to a coarse paste with a fork and the back of a spoon.) Scrape the paste into a small bowl and stir in the fish sauce, water, and lime juice. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Transfer to small serving bowls for dipping. Or transfer to a jar, cover, and refrigerate for tip to 1 week.